Latvian MailerSeptember 30, 2006

Sveiki, all!

Now that we've completely restructured navigation of our mailer archive, we can start adding to it again! Lots ot catching up since the last issue. The biggest news being the Latvian president throwing her hat into the ring for UN Secretary-General! And now even Boris Yelstin is saying how much better things would be if only Latvia would stop using that word, "occupation," when referring to the Soviet tenure on Latvian soil. (All the more reason to keep using it!)

In the news:

This edition's link is to study abroad in Latvia. This edition's picture is of yet another excruciatingly quaint (!) street in Old Riga.

As always, AOL'ers, remember, mailer or not, Lat Chat spontaneously appears every Sunday on AOL starting around 9:00/9:30pm Eastern time, lasting until 11:00/11:30pm. AOL'ers can follow this link in their AOL browser: Town Square-Latvian chat.

Ar visu labu,

Silvija and Peters
Latvian Link  

Latvia is increasingly a venue for international studies abroad. This edition's link is to such a program at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.

In the News  

Notes and comments which appear highlighted are our own.

Public Health — Latvian Smoking Ban
© 2006 Overseas Security Advisory Council
Latvia Security News: June 2006 [excerpt]

June 28, 2006 — According to new regulations as of Saturday, July 1, smoking will be prohibited in many Riga bars and restaurants. A majority of bars and restaurants will observe the no smoking ban. Smoking will be permitted on outdoor terraces, however, and in locations separated from no smoking zones with adequate ventilation. The no smoking zones cannot be less than 50% of the establishment's total square meters. Also, the smoking area must be as far away from the entrance as possible. The new regulations also pertain to casinos and slot machine halls.

The Russian view of the world
© 2006 Rzeczpospolita
June 21, 2006

Poland — Pawel Reszka writes about a survey conducted in Russia by Levada Center, an independent sociological institute. According to the survey, seven percent of Russians regard Poland as an enemy state, and Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania and the US are also seen as enemies. The countries most often cited as friendly are Belarus, Kazakhstan and China, in that order. Reszka quotes Boris Timoshenko of the Moscow "Foundation for the defence of Glasnost": "The results of the survey are not surprising. They reflect the influence of government propaganda. People in Russia can't understand when the Baltic states and Poland compare the Soviet occupation with that of the Nazis. The Russians are still expecting the discussion about the past to end with a 'thanks for liberating us'. The three 'friends', on the other hand, are proof of the 'Lukashenkonisation' of Russia."

The Latvians and liquor
© 2006 Delfi
June 22, 2006

Latvia — Latvia is celebrating midsummer. Vladimirs Cepurovs takes the opportunity to reflect on the country's drinking habits in comparison with the rest of Europe, taking a closer look at statistics according to which Latvians are the continent's heaviest drinkers. "We're constantly told that each Latvian (including babies) drinks an average of 17 litres of high-proof alcoholic beverages per year, while the European average is 15 litres. We're also told that 70 percent of the alcoholic beverages drunk in Latvia are spirits – more than in any other country, and that our alcohol consumption is on the increase. But researchers and statisticians are forgetting the historical aspect: according to old chronicles the Germans were the biggest drinkers in the 16th century." Original story in Latvian [here]

Riga bans Christopher Street Day
© 2006 Diena
July 20, 2006

Riga — The city of Riga has banned "Christopher Street Day" (CSD) this year. Aivars Ozolins sees this not only as a violation of the right to freedom of assembly and to hold demonstrations, but also as a campaign directed against sexual minorities. "The intensity of hate evident amongst those who petitioned the ban leads to the conclusion that part of society is obviously willing to renounce rights and freedoms which only recently it fought hard to obtain. The reasons behind this manipulated hate are the same as in other countries: people's financial worries, a sense of injustice, and anger at not being able to exert political influence."

The Global Freedom Index
© 2006 Diena
August 9, 2006

Latvia ranks twentieth in the "State of World Liberty Index", the product of joint research by several institutes and international NGOs on economic and personal freedom. Peteris Strautins says it's not a bad ranking, but laments the fact that of all countries Latvia's eternal rival Estonia is number one. "We could try to console ourselves by saying that the Estonians go to great pains to seem as westernised as possible, but in their heart of hearts harbour the same fears we do. But Latvia has more corruption, and fears are growing regarding people who are perceived as threatening, for example sexual minorities and their campaign to be allowed to march peacefully through the city. This hysteria did not come about spontaneously but has been fuelled by politicians who want to divert the public's attention form their own underhand dealings."

Index follows:

Rank Country Score
1 Estonia 85.25
2 Ireland 83.34
3 Canada 82.34
4 Switzerland 82.33
5 Iceland 82.27
6 Bahamas 82.12
7 United Kingdom 81.96
8 United States 81.96
9 Cyprus 81.65
10 New Zealand 81.24
11 Luxembourg 80.09
12 Chile 79.97
13 Australia 79.46
14 Hong Kong 79.25
15 Finland 78.96
16 Lithuania 77.49
17 Austria 77.27
18 Uruguay 77.14
19 Netherlands 76.72
20 Latvia 76.55
21 Germany 76.52
22 Denmark 76.48
23 Czech Rep., The 76.34
24 Hungary 76.19
25 Taiwan 75.73
26 Costa Rica 75.60
27 Slovakia 75.55
28 Portugal 74.92
29 Belgium 74.61
30 Malta 74.54
31 Norway 74.04
32 Cape Verde 74.01
33 Sweden 73.55
34 Spain 73.29
35 Japan 73.18
36 Panama 73.12
37 South Korea 72.85
38 Poland 72.81
39 El Salvador 72.53
40 Botswana 71.42
41 Italy 71.22
42 Barbados 70.84
43 Mauritius 70.77
44 Slovenia 69.90
45 Belize 69.38
46 Greece 69.18
47 South Africa 69.14
48 France 69.11
49 Singapore 68.72
50 Bulgaria 68.61
51 Trinidad & Tobago 68.08
52 Mexico 67.79
53 Jamaica 67.30
54 Israel 66.80
55 Mongolia 65.68
56 Dominican Rep., The 65.55
57 Peru 65.34
58 Georgia 65.27
59 Brazil 64.87
60 Ghana 64.75
61 Bolivia 63.98
62 Croatia 63.44
63 Romania 63.26
64 Argentina 63.02
65 Paraguay 62.77
66 Namibia 62.70
67 Macedonia 62.36
68 Bahrain 62.00
69 Madagascar 61.76
70 Papua New Guinea 61.61
71 Albania 61.35
72 Kuwait 61.16
73 Ecuador 61.11
74 Mali 60.66
75 Honduras 60.64
76 Thailand 60.11
77 Benin 60.06
78 India 59.48
79 Armenia 59.46
80 Nicaragua 59.41
81 Kenya 59.36
82 Senegal 59.31
83 Sri Lanka 59.17
84 Turkey 58.82
85 Philippines, The 58.10
86 Suriname 57.91
87 Ukraine 57.72
88 Indonesia 57.23
89 Bosnia & Herzegovina 57.01
90 Lesotho 56.52
91 Fiji 56.05
92 Guatemala 55.40
93 Moldova 55.10
94 Tanzania 54.69
95 United Arab Emirates 54.48
96 Malaysia 54.47
97 Guyana 53.90
98 Colombia 53.75
99 Jordan 53.31
100 Uganda 53.15
101 Niger 52.92
102 Mozambique 52.83
103 Oman 52.65
104 Zambia 52.30
105 Lebanon 50.56
106 Kyrgyzstan 50.12
107 Guinea-Bissau 49.80
108 Bangladesh 49.11
109 Sierra Leone 49.09
110 Morocco 47.75
111 Burkina Faso 47.72
112 Qatar 47.43
113 Nigeria 47.30
114 Burundi 46.31
115 Malawi 45.74
116 Cambodia 44.73
117 Mauritania 44.51
118 Venezuela 43.44
119 Djibouti 43.11
120 Tunisia 42.77
121 Pakistan 42.64
122 Saudi Arabia 42.56
123 Central African Rep. 42.14
124 Russia 42.07
125 Egypt 41.50
126 Gabon 41.28
127 The Gambia 40.72
128 Chad 39.88
129 Ivory Coast 39.76
130 Nepal 39.69
131 Rwanda 39.57
132 Kazakhstan 38.77
133 Swaziland 38.66
134 Cameroon 38.10
135 Algeria 37.60
136 Congo, Republic of 36.55
137 Azerbaijan 35.48
138 Ethiopia 35.40
139 Togo 35.39
140 Haiti 35.36
141 Tajikistan 34.79
142 Congo, Democratic Republic of 33.99
143 Guinea 33.52
144 Yemen 33.49
145 Angola 33.29
146 China 32.93
147 Iran 32.35
148 Vietnam 31.54
149 Syria 29.95
150 Equatorial Guinea 26.07
151 Zimbabwe 24.85
152 Uzbekistan 22.39
153 Belarus 21.69
154 Turkmenistan 21.07
155 Laos 20.59
156 Myanmar 18.87
157 Cuba 15.83
158 Libya 13.53
159 North Korea 6.80

More information is available at

Latvia hopes to develop relations with China
© 2006 People's Daily Online, Xinhua
August 25, 2006

Riga — Latvia was keen to develop relations with China, parliament Chairwoman Ingrida Udre said on Thursday. In an interview with a local newspaper, Udre, who paid a visit to China on Aug. 11-19, said the tour gave her a very good impression.

She said she and her parliamentary delegation received a warm reception in Beijing, indicating that China hoped to push forward the development of relations with Latvia, a member state of the European Union.

Latvia should learn from China, which had engineered a "record-breaking" economic reform in a short period of time and made astonishing achievements, Udre said.

The chairwoman said Latvia could make profits in transit goods from China, whose industry is developing at a high speed. In this regard, she added it was important to build a new "Silk Road" linking China, Kazakhstan and Russia.

International Festival: Long Life, The Hub
© 2006 The Herald
Neil Cooper
August 25, 2006

Latvia's New Riga Theatre aren't interested in getting down with the kids. Rather, director Alvis Hermanis and his cast of five twentysomething pipsqueaks breathe life into a sector of society that can only be imagined, primarily because no-one within it lives to tell the tale. This is self-evident as we move through a gloomy corridor chock-a-block with an array of rotting, left-in-the-rain but never-collected junk. Before being raised, the set's frontispiece of an old-persons' apartment block's exterior, looks appropriately Agatha Christie am-dramish. Inside each cramped room behind it are hoarded all the acquired trinkets that define cluttered, messy lives well-spent.

Within each of the three rooms book-ended by a shared kitchen and bathroom, the not-quite-silent residents rise, do their ablutions and indulge the hours in mundane tasks.

One knocks out appalling abstract painting in-between bouts of botched DIY. Another beats out waltz-time rhythms on a keyboard. Anything to exercise the brain and fill the holes where a good and useful life used to be.

In the ramshackle bubble that's painstakingly created, a slowly unfurling rhythm of life breathes at a radically different pace from all the hurly-burly beyond it. Such minutiae leads to the evening highlight of a little social get-together, full of ancient etiquette and rosy glows. In spirit and delivery, Hermanis has discovered the missing link between the existential pratfalls of those other co-dependent bookends, Charlie Chaplin and Samuel Beckett.

As bedtime nears, Hermanis's brilliant study can't help but remind you, too, of one's creaky mortality. Young at heart, flashing by before our eyes, this really is the future.

Yeltsin: Latvia should forget the word 'Occupation'
© 2006 The Baltic Times, BNS
Aug 27, 2006
By TBT staff

Latvia should forget the word “occupation,? and then its relations with Russia will improve considerably, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin told the Latvian daily Neatkariga in an interview. Yeltsin said that journalists more than politicians blamed Russia. “You are blaming Russia for Latvia’s occupation. Do you have any brain? Are you able to look at things in an objective way? Where was Russia at that time? There was no Russia. There was the Soviet Union. There was this monster. The Soviet Communist regime, which we were all fighting,? said Yeltsin.

He added that, like in Latvia, forces within Russia were also fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s, therefore he does not understand why “all of a sudden Russia is blamed for the occupation.?

“What occupation, please explain it to me? I beg you to exclude this word from your language. Television, newspapers, magazines. Exclude the word ‘occupation,’ and you will improve our mutual relations. I am absolutely sure about it. By mentioning the word ‘occupation,’ you annoy the Russian people who have nothing to do with it,? Yeltsin said.

The former president added that he did not understand Latvia’s attitude toward Russian people. “War veterans, forbidden to wear orders — it is some kind of hatred. It does not go with an independent and solid country, but Latvia now is a significant force, especially in Europe. I know it and I understand politics,? he said.

Yeltsin described his visit to Latvia as “very successful,? especially meeting with the president and the prime minister. Once he returns to Moscow, Yeltsin said he would inform Russian president Vladimir Putin, with whom he has very good relations, about his visit to Latvia.

“Knowing my authority and good relations with Putin, I will tell him all about my trip, and that Latvia wishes to solve the relationship issue. I think that our bilateral relations will move on,? he said.

During Yeltsin’s three-day visit to Latvia, he met with top governmental officials and received the state’s highest honor, the Tristar Order, for his contribution in restoring.

Russia ready to sign Baltic border treaties free of demands
© 2006 RIA Novosti
August 25,2006

MOSCOW — Russia will sign border treaties with Latvia and Estonia as soon as the two Baltic states withdraw political demands, a Foreign Ministry official said Friday.

Talks on border treaties between Russia and the two countries have stalled over territorial issues inserted into new versions of agreements by Estonia and Latvia, and the two countries' claims for compensation over what they term the Soviet "occupation."

Pavel Kuznetsov, head of a ministry's department for European affairs, said it was not Russia's fault that the issue of signing a border treaty, in particular with Estonia, was still open. "We are ready to sign a document any moment. The question is Estonia's willingness to start talks," he said.

The Russian and Estonian foreign ministers signed treaties on common borders on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia. On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.

Kuznetsov said the issue could be resolved in days.

"We proceed from the premise that a new border treaty will not contain any political 'snags'," he said.

And a Latvian-Russian border treaty dating back to 1997 remains unsigned and unratified. Latvian politicians have looked to link the border settlement to a declaration from Russia that would admit Soviet aggression during the World War II and other issues.

Kuznetsov said Russia's stance on the issue had not changed.

"We are ready to sign this document any moment if Latvia renounces the declaration of April 2005, which is unacceptable for us."

Latvia has included a unilateral explanatory declaration to the draft border treaty, which allows it to claim Russian territory — the Pytalovo district in the Pskov Region — which was part of Latvia before World War II and was transferred to Russia in 1944.

Latvia praised for ban on junk food in school
© 2006 Independent News and Media, Sapa-AP
August 26, 2006
By Gary Peach

Riga, Latvia — Health experts on Friday praised Latvia's decision to ban the sale of junk food in public schools and urged other European governments to follow the Baltic country's example in fighting childhood obesity. Latvia will become the first EU country to implement a total ban on junk food sales in public schools on November 1 after a government decision earlier this week, experts said.

Banned products include soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, potato chips, candy and foodstuffs containing artificial colourings or flavourings.

"What happened in Latvia is a major step, very welcomed news," said Neville Rigby, of London-based think tank International Association for the Study of Obesity.

"Selling junk food in schools sets a bad example. It gives a sense that junk food is endorsed by authorities."

In July, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a personal appeal on behalf of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressing concern with the regulation. Albright now heads a group that brokers agreements between governments and businesses.

Vike-Freiberga, however, responded by saying she supported the ban, since children are unable to gauge the harmful impact that junk food has on their health.

"This is a very courageous move by the Latvian government," said Francesco Branca, an adviser with the World Health Organisation in Copenhagen.

"It sends a very clear message that governments should establish a healthy environment in schools."

Branca said the ban should be joined by a program to provide alternative food items and encourage children to eat healthily.

There has been an increasing awareness of the medical costs associated with obesity.

On Friday, Britain's Health Department issued a report claiming nearly one-third of all British men will be obese by 2010. Nearly a quarter of British adults are already obese, the report shows.

Branca and Rigby said Latvia is the first EU country to implement such a sweeping ban of junk food sales in schools. Some countries have taken partial measures to tackle the problem, such as France, which last year banned all vending machines from its state schools.

Junk food is sold in vending machines, kiosks or small shops in many Latvian schools, Health Ministry spokeswoman Zaiga Barvida said.

Schoolchildren are prone to spend their money on this rather than buying healthier fare in the cafeteria, she said.

As part of the plan to improve children's overall diet, the ministry said it would also promote consumption of milk, juice, fruit, berries and unsalted nuts in all public schools, the spokeswoman said.

Barvida said that doctors and nutritionists have been warning about a rise in the number of overweight children in Latvia.

Russia and Latvia: friends and partners or foes?
© 2006 RIA Novosti
August 26, 2006

MOSCOW. (Janis Urbanovic, member of the Latvian Parliament and the RIA Novosti Expert Council) — Russian satirical writer Mikhail Zhvanetsky might have said, "'Latvia is a friend of Russia.' I know the words and understand them, but they don't sound right all the same."

This is a difficult period in Russo-Latvian relations. A pessimist would say they are bad, especially in view of the latest survey by the Levada Center, which found that 46% of Russians view Latvia as a hostile state, and Latvians' opinions are almost the same with regard to Russia.

The Latvian authorities are making historical claims against Russia in an environment of general Russophobia. The two countries are playing on each other's most sensitive spots. When Latvia accuses Russia of violating human rights in Chechnya, Russia responds by spotlighting the issue of Russians in Latvia who are denied citizenship.

Both sides think they are right and that they are acting in accordance with noble principles. Politicians are peddling this commodity, with varying degrees of success, on the foreign market as well as forcing it on the domestic consumer. The situation is compounded by the fact that this mutual exchange of kicks and complaints has spread to economic ties.

The obvious conclusion is that Russo-Latvian dialogue cannot change.

However, I think "the glass is half full" and the situation can either deteriorate or improve, depending on what the two sides do.

Latvia can champion neighborly relations, partnership, and even friendship with Russia. It has a major advantage: nearly 40% of Latvians say they are Russian compatriots. I am a Lett by birth, but I like to speak and read Russian and consider myself "a Russian compatriot". The Russian language remains key to information and many cultural values.

I am not the only Lett who thinks so. In fact, the majority of Letts think so, yet our relations with Russia are not what they should be. In my view, Russia might use the large group of Russian compatriots in Latvia to achieve domestic objectives. In the past 15 years, Russian politicians have regularly exploited the problems of compatriots, primarily non-citizens, especially during election campaigns.

This problem will continue to poison bilateral relations, that is, unless the 2007 parliamentary and the 2008 presidential elections in Russia turn out to be an exception to the rule.

The Latvian political elite is so anti-Russian that it will view Russia's attempts to solve the problem of Russian speakers in Latvia as a resurgence of imperial ambitions and a move towards reconstructing the Soviet Union.

A sober analysis of the situation will show that there are no irreconcilable differences between us, and we should convert the drawbacks presented by our common, tragic history in the 20th century into the advantages of knowing each other and having a common cultural and historical past. Business ties can also make a positive contribution.

Russia has an economic interest in Latvia as a transit state. Latvia has joined the European Union and could facilitate the movement of Russian goods and services there. As a member of the EU, NATO and the World Trade Organization, Latvia could promote common ideas and projects at those forums.

Nothing is unrealistic in politics when there is a will to attain a common objective. If we act on this premise, Latvia will readily support important foreign policy and economic initiatives put forth by Russia in Brussels or Washington.

The unique ethnic situation in Latvia has the potential to promote Russo-Latvian relations, but first the two sides must stop using Russian speakers as pawns in their domestic and foreign policies. Latvia's non-citizens should be encouraged to become naturalized and given help, including financial assistance, to adjust to new realities, in particular by learning the Latvian language.

Latvia could respond by granting the Russian language official status, which would give Russian speakers additional rights and opportunities and promote the use of Russian.

It may seem paradoxical, but granting the Russian language official status is in the interests of Letts. Learning Russian will give the next generations direct access to Russia's great culture and ensure more palpable benefits from economic cooperation, because the bulk of Latvian businessmen speak Russian.

Are such positive changes possible? My optimism is spurred on by nascent, so far almost invisible trends in Latvia's politics, where the so-called Russian parties are gaining strength. There are grounds for hoping that the Latvian government will pursue a more pragmatic policy of normalizing relations with Russia after the October parliamentary election.

Jānis Urbanovičš is a member of the Latvian parliament (Saeima), elected from the For Human Rights in a United Latvia party (Apvienība Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā), an openly pro-Russian (and, in fact, seeking not to need to integrate into Latvia at all) party including and led by Tatjana Ždanoka. Russia has no intention of "solving" any problems as it cannot even admit the Soviet Union illegally occupied Latvia (the essential sticking point in border negotiations — Russia will not sign anything that alludes to "this" (current) Latvia being continuous with "that" (pre-WWII) Latvia.]

Announcement and foreword of the book "The Last Prisoners of the Cold War: the Stateless People of Latvia in Their Own Words"
For Human Rights in a United Latvia Party

Riga, Strasbourg — Presentation of the book "The Last Prisoners of the Cold War, The Stateless People of Latvia in Their Own Words? has taken place In Riga On: Friday 22nd September From: 12.00 — 13.30 In: Information Center of the European Parliament, Aspazijas bulv.28 and will take [has taken] place In Strasbourg On: Wednesday 27th September From: 15.00 — 16.00 In: European Parliament, Allee du Printemps, Room S 2.2

The book is launched with the support of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament.

Main contributors: Tatjana Ždanoka MEP, Miroslavs Mitrofanovs, Aleksandrs Gamalejevs, Viktors Jolkins, Vladimirs Buzajevs, Aleksejs Dimitrovs

Latvian non-citizens are a significant (up to 400,000 persons) and unique category of permanent EU residents who are denied the citizenship of any country and deprived of some basic human rights. The majority of them will never become citizens with full-rights. The book is a selection of personal stories from thirty one Latvian non-citizens of different ages and occupations. A list of differences between rights of Latvian citizens and non-citizens is annexed.

Copies of the book will be available at the presentation.

Announcement page [here]. As we've indicated, judged by the actions of its members, this is not a party with Latvia's interests in mind.

Latvian Port Losing Traffic
© 2006 St. Petersburg Times, Bloomberg
By Aaron Eglitis

RIGA — Latvia’s Ventspils Nafta, the country’s largest port, said annual profit slumped 45 percent in the first half after it lost traffic to Russian competitors.

Net income fell to 4.2 million lati ($7.7 million) in the first half this year versus a year ago, the company said in a statement to the Riga Stock Exchange. Sales fell 9 percent to 38.6 million lati from 42.4 million lati a year ago.

Ventspils Nafta said profit fell as Russian transport tariffs rose, cutting Russian rail traffic to the Latvian port. Ventspils has also seen profit fall since a 2002 decision by Transneft, Russia’s state oil-pipeline operator, halted pipeline shipments of crude to the Latvian port. Shipments of crude and gas oil fell to 8.1 million tons in 2005, down from 22.3 million tons in 2001.

The Latvian company loaded 3.3 million tons of crude and petroleum products in the first half of 2006.

Latvia wants to sell its 38.62 percent share in Ventspils to investors in early October on the Riga Stock Exchange, should it be approved by a major shareholder and the state assets-sales agency, said Martins Jaunarajs, an investment banker at Parex Banka, a Latvian lender managing the sale.

Under the Parex plan, packets of 19,415 shares will be sold, raising at least 73 million lati ($134 million) at a minimum share price of 1.81 lati. Parex, which is underwriting the sale, will buy any shares left unsold.

Bidders for the oil terminal may include PKN Orlen SA, Poland’s biggest oil refinery, KazMunaiGas, the state-owned Kazak oil company and Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, Economy Ministry spokesman Oskars Balodis said Aug.8. A group of Austrians represented by Citigroup Inc. may also bid.

Latvijas Naftas Tranzits owns 49 percent of Ventspils Nafta, with the remaining shares held by small investors or traded on the bourse.

Prices rise globally as Latvia leads the way
Latvia housing prices rise 45.3 percent

Overseas property investment news — LatviaHouse prices around the world rose by an average 8.5 per cent in the year to June, international estate agent Knight Frank has estimated.

Although higher than the 5.9 per cent annual rate of house price inflation in the UK – according to the latest Halifax estimate – this is lower than the 12.3 per cent rate of increase reported by Knight Frank in June 2005.

Overall 18 of the 30 countries covered by the survey saw lower price growth in the last year than in the year before. However, some countries are still seeing massive house price inflation.

In Latvia prices went up by 45.3 per cent in the last year, in Bulgaria by 20.5 per cent, and in Denmark by 15.4 per cent.

Some countries experienced house price falls, led by Serbia where the average went down by 5.1 per cent, Japan (down 2.7 per cent), and Hong Kong where a 22.5 per cent rate of increase in the year to June 2005, became a 2.4 per cent fall in the year to June 2006.

‘House price growth is continuing to slow across the globe’, said Knight Frank head of residential research Liam Bailey. ‘Many commentators have been concerned that the boom in prices which has been seen in many countries would end in tears. When price growth began to slow in Australia and the UK, in 2003 and 2004 the belief was that this was the beginning of a house price slowdown which would influence consumer confidence, spending and economic growth.

‘Close attention has been paid to the US market and to other European markets such as France and Ireland where price growth continued to expand last year. However, in all of these markets price growth has begun to slow with annualised inflation lower in each compared to the same period last year. A stable slowdown appears to have taken place in the UK and Australia with both countries sitting well down the price growth league table.

'New data for Latvia reveals huge growth in prices over the past two years, with prices for apartments in Riga and the surrounding area over 45 per cent higher in a year’.

The firm said ‘a levelling up’ in prices is affecting all the former Eastern Bloc countries – ‘especially those which have joined the EU in recent years’.

It concludes higher prices in most parts of the globe are the result of low finance costs and increased wealth following a period of strong economic growth.

With affordability now an issue in many countries the Knight Frank forecast is for a continued slowing of average global house price growth over the rest of 2006 and into 2007.

However, said Bailey, ‘this wider trend will mask regional hot spots and investment opportunities. Our favoured locations are: -

  • Germany – Europe’s largest economy, and the world’s largest exporter is still underperforming and we believe will see sustained growth from 2007;
  • Slovenia and Slovakia – the two countries with the best potential for further growth in Eastern Europe (not yet in our index but joining from next quarter with new data sets available);
  • Cyprus – has potential for growth over the medium term – once the VAT changes are implemented and settle down; and
  • Russia – effectively Moscow, has the potential for more growth and will rival eventually rival London as the most expensive world city within five years.
Kalvītis places urgency on bilateral agreement
© 2006 The Baltic Times, BNS
Aug 30, 2006
By TBT staff

RIGA — Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis expressed hope that agreements with Russia on economic cooperation and launching an intergovernmental task force would be ready to sign by fall.

In an interview with public radio, Kalvitis said that, according to information available to him, Russia was to consider both draft documents in September. “I think that these agreements will be ready to sign in September-October, and if we manage to ink them, this will be a result of dialogue,? the prime minister said.

He highlighted additional documents waiting to be signed, such as agreements on social protection, lifting double-taxation, and exchange of diplomatic properties. “All these accords will create a second phase, that is if we succeed in making the first step,? Kalvitis said.

However, Russian Ambassador to Latvia Viktor Kalyuzhny said he doubted the agreement would be signed so soon. At the soonest, the document might be inked after Latvia’s parliamentary elections, he said.

Stories for a Latvian soul
`Hometown hero' in Ludza wrote in his native tongue
Tadeuss Puisans, 88, led family pilgrimage abroad
Aug. 31, 2006. 01:00 AM
© 2006 Toronto Star Newspapers
Joanna Smith

With pride he showed them the ruins of a castle they knew from folktales, the rubble of his godparents' house and the few walls left of his school in his Latvian hometown. But when Tadeuss Puisans found an old cross among the tall grass and bushes on the farm where he grew up, the elderly man began to weep.

"He hadn't seen it since he was a child," Puisans' great niece Sandra Niedra said of the sacred symbol families would erect so they could worship when unable to walk to church.

It was an emotional moment during a three-week trip to Latvia two years ago for Puisans, Niedra and her two teenaged daughters — a pilgrimage to teach them where they came from. "We got to actually understand him a lot more by seeing what he saw," Niedra said.

Going through his scrapbook and his closet full of slide wheels after Puisans died of cancer Aug. 13, Niedra and her family began to learn even more about their loving patriarch, a prominent member of Canada's Latvian community who devoted his spare time to researching and writing about his homeland.

He was born Jan. 22, 1918, in the rural town of Ludza. The youngest of seven children in a farming family strong in its Catholic faith, he was the only one to go to school.

"He knew it was a big privilege he was able to do that and took it very seriously," Niedra said.

His studies were put on hold when the German occupation shut down the University of Latvia in 1941, but he was able to finish his pharmaceutical degree the next year. He then left for Germany in 1945, where he lived in a refugee camp before immigrating to Canada in 1948.

His desire for education was Puisans' strongest motivation for learning English while he worked as a miner in his new country. He saved up enough money to enrol in history — "his passion," he wrote in a short summary of his life — and modern languages at McMaster University. Earning his honours BA in 1954, he went on to specialize in the history of philosophy at the University of Toronto.

Although he finished the course work, he began his 25-year career with Environment Canada before officially graduating. A meteorologist, he lived eight years in the North early in his career, spending almost half of them near the North Pole.

At Easter, around the time he broke his hands in a fall and had to leave his Etobicoke house for a nursing home, Puisans fascinated several generations with slides he took in the Arctic.

"He actually got down on his belly to take pictures of the flowers, the moss," said Niedra, who remembers being overwhelmed by the tundra's desolation as a child on the train ride to Moosonee, Ont., to visit her great uncle. "He noticed everything."

"Everything" also described what his heritage meant to him. "He was nothing else," Niedra said. "He was Latvian. And he stood very proudly with that."

Puisans devoted his life to writing history books and a few novels about Latvia in his native tongue. He also reported on Latvian history for Radio Free Europe for five years in the 1980s.

Back in Ludza, Puisans was something of "a hometown hero," Niedra's husband John said. He founded a library and stocked it with books shipped from Canada after he used them to research his own work. A room in a small museum is dedicated to the émigré, showcasing his old manual typewriter.

A shining moment was his interview of Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a former Montrealer who is now president of Latvia. He also received the Tris Zvaigznu Ordenis ("Three Star Order") for contributing to Latvian society.

Not overtly political, "he just loved knowing and being able to (bring) forward the history of his ancestors," Niedra said.

During the trip, his undying loyalty to his nation was stronger than the pain of his terminal illness.

"He was having trouble walking, but even so he got into the car and would start singing — singing a folk song," Niedra remembers. "`Come on, girls,' he would say, `We're in Latvia!'"

He is survived by niece Anastasija Broks and her husband Peteris, great nephew Ludwig, and great nieces Sandra and Anna and their families, as well as nieces and nephews in Latvia.

Wedding bells for Warren Buffett
World's second-richest man ties the knot with longtime companion Astrid Menks on his 76th birthday.
© 2006 Cable News Network
August 31 2006: 6:23 PM EDT

NEW YORK ( — Warren Buffett tied the knot with longtime companion Astrid Menks in a private ceremony on his 76th birthday Wednesday, CNN has learned.

His daughter Susan A. Buffett hosted the brief 15-minute ceremony at her Omaha home, said the Omaha World-Herald.

Buffett and longtime companion Astrid Menks were married in a 15-minute ceremony in Omaha by Douglas County District Judge Patricia Lamberty.

The two were married by Douglas County District Judge Patricia Lamberty, the paper said.

It is Buffett's second marriage. His previous wife, Susan Thompson Buffett, passed away in 2004 from a stroke.

She and Buffett separated in 1977, when she moved out of his home in Omaha and relocated to San Francisco, according to the report.

Latvia-born Menks moved in with Buffett shortly afterwards, and they've lived as a couple in his home since then, according to Roger Lowenstein's 1995 biography of Buffett, the paper said.

Class A shares of Berkshire Hathaway (up $296.00 to $96,097.00, Charts) fell 0.1 percent on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday. At over $95,000, the stock is the most expensive on the NYSE because the company has not undergone a stock split. The company offers Class B shares (Charts) as well, which trade for around $3,000 each.

Berkshire, which was originally a textile milling company, now acts as a holding company for all of Buffett's investments.

Latvian President surprised by the slow progress of Latvian-Russian relations
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Sep 01, 2006
By TBT staff

Riga — Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is surprised that Latvian-Russian relations have such a slow progress despite determination shown by both countries.

In an interview to the Latvian public radio on Sept. 1, president said that during her last negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin a year ago, both officials agreed that exchange at the level of ministers and prime ministers should be organized between both countries, and “it would be good to forward a number of agreements.?

“It is surprising that both parties are so ready to forward things, and how is that possible that there is no progress. However, one should never lose patience in politics,? said Vike-Freiberga.

She said that Latvia should also show readiness to sign agreements with Russia. “At the moment we have something significant to do, Latvia will be ready to invite Russian president for an official visit as a neighbor,? said the president, when asked about Russian president's possible visit to Latvia.

Vike-Freiberga noted that no participation of Russian representatives is planned for the NATO summit this fall. "NATO secretary general has already announced that only member countries will participate in the summit, and thus guests from other countries will not take part in the summit," she said.

Asked whether Putin might visit Latvia before the end of her term in the office in the middle of next year, the president said that “the time is short, and such visits need long preparations, so I cannot offer any detailed information.?

Asked about the possibility to sign the border treaty, Vike-Freiberga said that it is the authority of politicians and foreign ministers.

“The arguments heard from the Latvian Foreign Ministry and Russian Foreign Ministry are still in force and therefore I think that both foreign ministries should continue negotiations and find a solution,? said Latvian president.

“Latvia has declared that it has come to a legal deadlock. If the country says that it is at legal deadlock, how can anything move further? Our politicians should find a way out of the deadlock, at the same time keeping on negotiations with Russia. We have told our partners in Europe that we are ready to sign it. Russia also has said that it is ready to sign it,? said the president.

Latvian-Russian relations had several significant events happening in the past few months. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis met with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov in Iceland in early summer and talked with the Russian president in St.Petersburg. Russian ex-president Boris Yeltsin visited Latvia in late August.

Several Latvian-Russian draft agreements in different fields are to be signed. In June draft agreements on economic cooperation and principles for the work of inter-governmental commission have been coordinated in Moscow.

Fears of 'extreme' TB strain
New drug-resistant infection is 'nightmare' say health experts
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday September 3, 2006
© 2006 The Observer

World Health Organization — Health experts are to hold an emergency meeting in Johannesburg this week, following the discovery of a deadly new strain of tuberculosis.

The strain — known as extreme drug-resistant TB — has horrified World Health Organisation doctors. In one outbreak in South Africa, 52 of 53 patients died within weeks of becoming infected.

'This new strain leaves us facing a nightmare,' said Paul Nunn, coordinator of the WHO's drug-resistance unit. 'It is resistant to nearly every drug in our arsenal. We are now on the threshold of the appearance of a strain of TB that is resistant to every medicine known to science.'

The strain was originally discovered by scientists earlier this year. They looked at cases of multiple drug-resistant TB — which has developed over the past decade in many parts of the world — and discovered that among these a worrying new 'extreme' strain had evolved.

'Mainstream drugs are ineffective against multiple drug-resistant TB,' said Nunn. 'However, there are half a dozen second-line medicines that can be used to tackle it. Now this new extreme resistant strain has appeared. It is not only resistant to our principal anti-TB drugs, but to many of our second-line defences. In short, we are now on the last line of our defences against tuberculosis.'

Among the areas found to have been affected by extreme drug-resistant TB are Latvia and South Africa. Scientists discovered the strain last month among HIV-infected patients in the Kwazulu-Natal region. 'Fifty two of the 53 infected people are already dead, and the last may well have died by now,' added Nunn.

An estimated 4.5 million people in South Africa have HIV. Extreme drug-resistance TB could devastate the population. 'If countries don't have the diagnostic capacity to find these patients, they will die without proper treatment,' said Nunn.

As a result, WHO is to hold its emergency meeting in Johannesburg to help establish measures that will lead to the rapid diagnosis of the new strain.

'It appears to kill within a few weeks and that does not give us a lot of time to spot it and treat it with the right drugs,' added Nunn. The few classes of drugs that are still effective against this strain of TB are expensive and can be toxic.

The meeting will be attended by officials from WHO and its partners, including the South African Medical Research Council and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

United Nations Says Action Needed on Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis
Disease called "grave public health threat" especially for HIV-infected persons
September 5, 2006

Washington – Data analyzed jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that extreme cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) are on the rise, posing a “grave public health threat.?

Representatives of these two organizations will join other specialists at the Expert Consultation on Drug-Resistant TB, hosted by the South African Medical Research Council in Johannesburg, South Africa, September 7-8, to discuss the need for stronger preventative action against this dangerous form of TB, according to a September 5 WHO press release.

Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) describes strains of the bacterial disease that are resistant to at least two of the principal drugs in the pharmaceutical arsenal – isoniazid and rifampicin. The disease, which primarily affects the respiratory system, has developed resistance to the drugs mainly through poor implementation of therapy and incompletion of the long course of treatment necessary.

Earlier this year, extensive drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) first was described by specialists as a form of the disease that does not respond to three or more TB drugs.

WHO and CDC have conducted a new analysis of disease data from 2000-2004 to find that XDR-TB has been detected in all regions of the world, and is most prevalent in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Asia. In Latvia, for example, the researchers found that 19 percent of drug-resistant TB cases were the extreme form, compared to a 4 percent rate of XDR-TB in the United States.

A separate study conducted in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa also revealed alarmingly high mortality rates for XDR-TB. More than 540 patients were studied, and 53 had cases that met the criteria for XDR-TB. Of those, 52 died within 25 days. More than 40 of those patients were co-infected with HIV.

“Given the underlying HIV epidemic,? according to the press release, “drug-resistant TB could have a severe impact on mortality in Africa and requires urgent preventative action.?

Because poor care has given rise to the emergence of MDR-TB in the first place, WHO recommends a strengthening of basic disease care, including:

  • Prompt diagnosis and treatment to cure existing cases and prevent further transmission.
  • Increased collaboration between HIV and TB control programs, and
  • Increased investment in laboratory infrastructures.

The full text of the WHO press release is available on the organization’s Web site.

For additional information on diseases and international efforts to combat them, see Health.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

By Vladimir Socor
© 2006 Eurasia Daily Monitor, The JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Analysis — Russia’s challenge to Western energy security has grown almost explosively in recent months along seven dimensions:

  1. Seemingly unchecked growth of the European market share captured by Russia’s state-connected energy companies. Largely driven or assisted by the Kremlin, this process is fraught with manifold economic and political risks to Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community.
  2. Moscow’s ability to manipulate the flow of supplies en route to recipient countries. This ability was demonstrated during Ukraine’s gas crisis of January-February 2006, with ripple effects on European countries farther downstream. In July of this year, Moscow cut off the oil supplies to Lithuania and also blocked oil supplies from Kazakhstan to that country, so as to thwart the sale of Lithuania’s refinery and oil-transport system to Poland’s PKN Orlen. (It also continues to block Kazakhstan’s access to Latvia’s Ventspils oil terminal.) Under the guise of commercial and debt arrangements, in Ukraine’s case, and technical problems, in Lithuania’s case, Moscow plans to set the stage for takeovers of Ukraine’s gas pipelines and Lithuania’s oil sector.
  3. Disruption of energy export flows even before they leave Russian territory. Thus, in January and February this year, below-average winter temperatures in Russia (certainly not an unpredictable occurrence) reduced the gas volume available for Europe. A well-organized although never-explained sabotage of three energy supply lines on a single day (January 22) in Russia’s North Caucasus had a devastating impact on Western-oriented Georgia, with collateral effects on Moscow’s ally Armenia. And a relatively minor oil spill from a pipeline in western Russia in July provided the excuse for cutting off supplies to Lithuania (though not to Belarus from the same spur).
  4. Moscow's monopoly on the transit of eastern Caspian oil and gas to consumer markets in the industrialized democracies. The transit monopoly constitutes a novel type of economic and political leverage, usable against producer countries as well as against consumer countries. It is also an instrument of choice in the economic and political penetration of the countries of Europe’s East. The South Caucasus-Black Sea transit corridor is the only option that can protect the interests of consumer and producer countries alike.
  5. Rapid inroads by Russian state-connected energy companies, particularly Gazprom, into downstream infrastructure and distribution systems in Europe. Such arrangements include long-term exclusive contracts to lock Russian companies in and lock competitors out, leading eventually to price dictation and political leverage on consumer countries. In the case of gas, the success of Moscow’s strategy significantly depends on control over Central Asia’s gas reserves. Moscow uses a mix of political pressure and corruption to foil the construction of trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines via the Black Sea region to Europe.
  6. Inroads into some of Europe’s traditional supply sources of oil and gas, such as Algeria and Libya. In Algeria’s case, Russia has successfully offered multibillion-dollar arms deliveries as well as debt write-offs in return for starting “joint? extraction projects in Algeria and “joint? marketing of the fuel in Europe. With Europe no longer in full control of its few remaining oil and gas provinces, it must refocus its attention toward Caspian-Black Sea energy transit
  7. An incipient, yet already massive, transfer of financial resources from Western capital markets to fund extractive projects in Russia that operate under discretionary control of Russian state-connected companies and the Kremlin. Thus, the initial public offerings just held “successfully? in London for Rosneft and Gazprom have opened a drain on Western financial markets toward Russia, discounting considerations of energy security, let alone common policies on energy or foreign policy altogether.

To this succinct enumeration of recent challenges one must add the collateral political damage in some European countries from non-transparent, monopolistic agreements with Kremlin-linked companies. Gazprom’s massive entry into Turkey, Austria, Italy, and Germany, for example, has involved certain top-level politicians, business figures, and banks and brought them into highly questionable arrangements. These include protecting Gazprom against competition from other supply sources, such as those from the Caspian-Black Sea region, on European markets.

The convergence of these trends has highlighted the long-neglected, but now rapidly mounting, risks to the energy security of the enlarged West and its partners in Europe's East. At last, Brussels and Washington are beginning to acknowledge some aspects of this manifold challenge. But they have yet to focus on the dangerous nexus now forming between disruptions by Russia or in Russia and growing dependence upon Russia.

Microsoft Breeds a ‘Fowl’ Vista
September 7, 2006
© 2006 RealTechNews
By Michael Santo, Executive Editor

Following in the footsteps of Chevrolet and their poor Nova sales in Latin America (Nova means “it doesn’t go? in Spanish), Microsoft has given the country of Latvia some yuks with the name Vista. It can either mean ‘fowl’, or it can have the slang meaning of a ‘frumpy woman’ in Latvian.

“Everybody in my office bursts out laughing whenever I start talking about the new operating system,? 26-year-old customer assistance manager Zanis, who works in the Latvian capital, Riga, told AFP. “My people giggle about ‘Vista’, but I think it is positive because there are not many computer-related things that make you laugh,? he said. Source: Yahoo! News

U.S. president to visit Estonia, Latvia
© 2006 People's Daily Online, Xinhua
September 08, 2006

Washington — U.S. President George W. Bush will travel to Estonia and Latvia to strengthen the NATO alliance in November, the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

"President Bush will travel to Estonia and Latvia in November 2006 to support the advance of freedom and to strengthen the NATO alliance," the statement said.

Bush will have a bilateral program in Tallinn, Estonia on Nov. 28 and will meet with Estonia's president and prime minister before traveling to Riga, Latvia to participate in the November 28-29 NATO summit, the statement said.

"The president's visit will underscore the importance of the alliance in fostering a Europe whole and free by highlighting new allies that have successfully transitioned to free-market democracies, contribute to the war on terror, and offer lessons learned and expertise to others pursuing liberty," the statement said.

No swastika mittens for NATO leaders
Traditional "Pērkonkrusts" Symbol and Variants Now Politically Incorrect
Sun Sep 10, 2006
© 2006 Cable Network News, Reuters
By Jorgen Johansson

RIGA — Hundreds of Latvians knitting 4,500 pairs of woolen mittens as gifts for the November NATO summit have been told to avoid a folk symbol said to ward off evil since it looks like a Nazi swastika.

A spokeswoman for the NATO leaders' summit said the Latvian Thunder Cross, or Fire Cross, will not figure in the design of any of the thousands of unique pairs of mittens some 300 Latvians are producing for NATO delegates lest it be misinterpreted.

The Thunder Cross is a folklore symbol used as a charm against evil for Latvians. It quite commonly features on such mittens and other folk items in Latvian shops

The mittens will join a bottle of traditional Latvian spirits — Black Balzam — a CD of local folk music, a jar of honey and some Latvian tea in a gift bag for delegates.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is expected to personally hand over the gift bag to the 26 heads of NATO member states, including President Bush, who plans to visit Estonia as well during his Baltic stay.

The November summit, NATO's 19th such gathering, will be the first hosted by Latvia which joined NATO and the EU in 2004.

Among other themes, leaders are expected to discuss expansion of the alliance to incorporate other former Soviet states, along with the defense alliance's evolving role.

Latvian Supreme Court judge suspended for wiretapping order
© 2006 International Herald Tribune, The Associated Press
September 13, 2006

RIGA, Latvia Latvia's Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it would have to wait a month before deciding whether to begin disciplinary proceedings against a judge suspended for ordering the phone-tapping of a top investigative journalist.

The head of the court's administration, Anita Kehre, said that the court first needed to obtain materials from prosecutors, who have begun a criminal investigation into the wiretap of Ilze Jaunalksne's mobile phone. Jaunalksne is a leading journalist whose reporting on political impropriety has brought her wide acclaim.

But scandal erupted earlier this week after excerpts from Jaunalksne's conversations were reprinted in Latvian media, indicating a leak in Latvia's State Revenue Service, which had requested the tap last year. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis criticized the existing system of phone-taps, while a parliamentary committee summoned the head of the nation's top law enforcement agency, the Constitutional Protection Bureau, for an explanation.

Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans also moved swiftly, suspending Justice Marija Goldsmite on Tuesday for approving the tap on Jaunalksne's phone at the request of the revenue service. Goldsmite was quoted in local media as saying she did not remember the details of the case but felt that the decision must have been justified since she gave permission.

Kehre said this was the first incident in Latvia in which a Supreme Court judge was suspended for a violation of duties. "This is a special case," she said. "We have to investigate what really happened to determine how much the judge may have acted incorrectly."

The State Revenue Service said it would also conduct an internal investigation to discover the source of the leaked information.

Munkevics replaces Aizstrauta as Jurmala mayor
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Sepember 13, 2006
From wire reports

RIGA — Lawmakers from Latvia’s lush seaside town of Jurmala have sacked Inese Aizstrauta from the mayor’s seat for “inadequate? performance and elected Raimonds Munkevics in her stead. Nine out of 15 council members supported Munkevics, who is from the Jurmala Our Home party on Sept. 7. Aizstrauta, who tried to regain her seat, received the remaining six votes.

“Today emotions were high, but I hope that we will be able to join together, working for the good of the people,? the new mayor said, promising to live up to lawmakers’ expectations.

The political standoff in the small community received wide coverage in Latvia’s media given the town’s enormous real estate values and powerful residents, who include President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

Munkevics told journalists that he did not expect any major cooperation problems within the council as there were few political topics on the agenda, mostly just economic issues.

Asked how he plans to settle the problems that Aizstrauta, in his words, “failed to solve,? Munkevics became tongue tied. Evading the question, the new mayor only reiterated his earlier statement. “These problems,? he said, “were not solved at all by Aizstrauta.?

As an example he pointed to Jurmala’s housing development program, which “was approved [by Aizstrauta], but not implemented.?

Deputies had also named Aigars Tampe from For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and Dainis Urbanovics from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party as possible candidates for the position, but they later recalled their candidacies.

Munkevics added that he would soon propose the dismissal of vice mayor Urbanovics. Janis Kuzins from the Motherland Alliance would make a better candidate for the position, he added.

On Sept. 7, Jurmala lawmakers dismissed city mayor Aizstrauta after lengthy debate. The decision, which was proposed by Munkevics, was passed with nine votes to six.

Munkevics had several times complained that Aizstrauta was weakening the council’s performance. The former mayor had failed to act in a constructive and objective manner, and had neglected to implement an effective development strategy in both the business and employment field.

Nine lawmakers backed Munkevics’ proposal.

The Jurmala city council consists of 15 lawmakers and Aizstrauta is still supported by five of them – two former New Era lawmakers, who were expelled from the party alongside Aizstrauta, and one deputy from the People’s Party, LSDSP and Our Land.

Latvian Prez joins race for post of UN Secy Gen
© 2006 Diligent Media DNA
Dharam Shourie / PTI
September 16, 2006

UNITED NATIONS: Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has joined the race for the post of the next UN Secretary General, taking the number of contestants to six including Indian nominee Shashi Tharoor.

Sixty-eight-year-old Vike-Freiberga is the first women and first non-Asian to be formally nominated for the post. She was nominated by three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, asserting that she has shown the capacity to inspire a nation and hence is suitable for the post.

They sent an official letter to UN Security Council President Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece to put her in the race, Council diplomats said.

Her name would be in the next straw poll on Septemder 28. Diplomats expected the final decision to be taken some time in October but were not betting on the date. They also indicated the possibility of another straw poll after the September 28 exercise as a few more candidates might come in.

If elected, Vike-Freiberga would be the first woman Secretary General in the 60-year history of the world body.

Recently, there had been demands that the Council consider a woman for the post to highlight that it is not a male preserve.

The Baltic states also said that Vike-Freiberga "has proved the capacity of a woman to lead and inspire a nation", adding it "would be a tangible demonstration of the principle of gender equality, so tirelessly defended by the United Nations over the last 60 years" for her to be the UN chief.

Diplomats said that one of the major hurdles the Latvian President faces is that she is not from Asia and most Security Council members would like a person from that region to head the organisation.

This is considered to be Asia's turn on the principle of rotation among regions. The last Secretary General from Asia was U Thant of Myanmar, who retired in 1971 after competing two terms.

But diplomats also said that no one can be sure what would happen when the five permanent members start bargaining over the candidates. The five are the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China and they have veto power. Hence concurrence of the five is essential for a candidate to be elected to the post.

While generally accepting the principle of rotation, the United States has also repeatedly said it wants the best possible candidate. Similar statements have also been made by some other members.

Besides Tharoor and Vike-Freiberga, the candidates are South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Jordanian Prince Zeid al-Hussein and Sri Lanka's Jayantha Jayapala.

In the straw poll held by the Council on September 14, Ban had got 14 out of 15 positive votes and one member had no opinion. Tharoor had ten positive votes, three negative and two no opinions. Sathirathai had nine positive votes, three negative and three no opinion.

In case of Prince Hussein, six members cast positive votes, four negative and five had no opinion. Danapala managed only three positive votes and had five negative votes against him and seven expressed no opinion.

Latvian party moves to ban Russian in parliament sessions
© 2006 RIA Novosti

RIGA, September 19 (RIA Novosti) — A political party in Latvia has proposed banning the use of Russian in parliamentary sessions, a national newspaper said Tuesday.

The proposal, put forward by the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party, met with strong opposition from various lawmakers interviewed by the Russian-language Chas newspaper.

Russia's relations with its Baltic neighbor have been strained in the post-Soviet era by the Latvian government's policy toward Russian-speaking residents, which Moscow sees as discriminatory.

The paper quoted Vitaly Orlov of the Harmony Centre, a political alliance in parliament, as saying: "You can't ban any language. I, for example, often hear people from Latgale [an eastern region of Latvia] speak in Latgalian."

The deputy also referred to a lawmaker who often speaks to his colleagues in French. "It never occurred to me that you can ban a language," he said.

Alexander Golubov, of the Socialist Party, said: "This idea is completely stupid. It's unlikely parliament will support it. Parliament has enough work as it is. It's another pre-election move by this radical party."

The proposal will be considered by lawmakers next week.

As well as disputes over the rights of Russian-speakers in the EU country, another divisive issue in relations with Russia is Latvia's refusal to grant citizenship to many ethnic Russians, who make up around one-third of its 2.3-million population. Relations have also been strained by an unresolved border dispute.

As long as the affairs of state are conducted in Latvian this would not appear to be particularly important. That said, there's the usual propaganda about "refusal" to grant citizenship, the border "dispute" and so on.

Latvian Parliament bans discrimination of homosexual employees
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Sep 22, 2006
By TBT staff

After lengthy deliberations the Latvian parliament has passed amendments to the labor law banning discrimination of employees on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

The draft amendments banning discrimination of gay and lesbian employees that will bring Latvia's legislation in line with an EU directive were passed with 46 votes against 35, with three abstentions.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga also had spoken about a necessity to pass the amendments. In June, the president sent the draft amendments to the parliament for repeated consideration.

In a letter to parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, the president underscored that the rights of an individual to work cannot be linked to his or her private life, which is protected by the Constitution.

Vike-Freiberga pointed out that Latvia had not objected to inclusion of the ban on this kind of discrimination in national laws during the pre-accession talks with the EU or transposition of the EU directives.

“Considering the above-mentioned, as well as the fact that the ban on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation would equally protect both individuals with conventional sexual orientation as well as homosexuals, I see a logical reason to state this kind of discrimination alongside the listed bans on discrimination based on race, color, gender, age, disability, religious, political or other belief, ethnic or social origin, financial or marital status,? the president said in the letter to the parliament speaker.

Lawmakers from the Christian-oriented Latvia's First Party, nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK), the Greens and Farmers Union, leftist Harmony Center, as well as several independent MPs voted against the ban on discrimination on grounds of sexuality.

The bill was supported by MPs from the ruling People's Party, opposition center-right New Era party, as well as several MPs from the Harmony Center.

Accenture Opens IT center in Latvia
Will leverage Russian language skills to serve foreign clients
© 2006 Outsourcing World
September 22
Juris Kaza

Riga — IT services and consulting giant Accenture Ltd. has opened a technology services center in Riga, Latvia, with a view to acquiring customers in Russia and other countries where Russian is the language of business.

The opening follows moves by other companies from the Nordics, the rest of Europe and beyond outsourcing knowledge-based work to Latvia and the other Baltic countries.

Accenture's Riga operation, which was officially opened Dec. 1, currently employs 150 staff who work almost entirely with clients in the Nordic countries in the telecommunications and high technology fields.

The company is in talks with a potential Russian client who would be served by the Russian-language skills of most of the local Riga staff, said Jordi Colome, lead senior executive for Accenture's European and Mauritius Delivery Centers.

Latvia was part of the former Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 and most of the population speaks Russian as a second language, although English proficiency is increasing quickly. The language skills, which also include Scandinavian tongues, and a high level of skilled IT workers were the main reasons for opening the center in Riga, Colome said.

Most of the services will be for foreign clients and include business process outsourcing and distance knowledge work. Latvian businesses are also welcome, the company said.

Accenture executives said they expected the center to grow rapidly but declined to give projections. Pasi Solja, who heads the Riga operation, said during a tour of the premises that he expected to have room for 280 workers within a few months.

Latvia and the other Baltic countries have become a focus for knowledge-based IT outsourcing operations. Sweden's Tele2 AB, for example, is moving billing operations to Latvia for its 30 million customers in Europe and running computer networks in Scandinavia through a Latvian subsidiary of its Uni2 IT outsourcing company.

Seavus Group, a Swedish-Macedonian software and IT systems support company, is seeking up to 70 staff for an operation in Latvia. During the summer, Swedish-Finnish TietoEnator Corp. bought one of Latvia's largest IT integrators, IT Alise, and started shifting its group accounting operations to Latvia through another subsidiary.

Meanwhile Latvian telco Lattelekom, owned by TeliaSonera AB and the Latvian government, has said it will work hard to find business process outsourcing (BPO) and network support and maintenance customers in the Nordic region and elsewhere in Europe through two subsidiaries.

Still, all players in the Baltic markets face a potential labor crunch as the supply of trained IT staff wears thin.

"The market is growing and we see Accenture as an opportunity rather than a competitive challenge. What worries us is that labor resources are running short," said Baiba Paegle, chief executive of Lattelkom subsidiary C1.

Jurgis Kirsakmens, marketing director at TietoEnator Alise (formerly IT Alise), said that " we are now going out of our way to train people who have strong IT skills as a side interest — for example, accountants who know software — since the education system isn't producing enough pure computer science and software engineering graduates."

Azeri President to Visit Latvia
© 2006 Trend
By A.Ismayilova

Tofik Zulfugarov, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Latvia, told exclusively Trend that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will pay an official visit to Latvia early this October.

During the two-day visit to Riga the head of state of Azerbaijan and Latvia are expected to sign several bilateral agreements. President Aliyev is expected to hold a meeting with scientific and political community of Latvia.

The ambassador said that it is also planned to organize a business forum with the participation of representatives of business circles of Azerbaijan and Latvia.

Around 30 Azerbaijani businessmen will participate in the forum, which is expected to end in signing of several documents.

On the eve of the Azerbaijani President’s visit to Latvia, the Azerbaijani-Latvian intergovernmental commission will meet in Latvia.

"Ten Animated Films by Signe Baumane": Latvia on the Hudson
© 2006 Tune Zone
By Chris Wood
09-26-2006, 1:04 AM

These days we are so inundated with safe, glossy big studio animation that it’s easy to forget the bizarre low budget scribbles on the fringes of the industry. Especially since increasingly sophisticated films from the likes of Pixar are beginning to co-opt independent animation’s traditional advantage in thematic complexity. All that’s left is to be as weird as humanly possible, a goal which Signe Baumane’s Ten Animated Films accomplishes with great relish.

Baumane hails from Latvia, but now makes her home in New York City, where she often works with well known American indie animator Bill Plympton (I Married a Strange Person!). Like Plympton her short films have made the rounds of many film festivals since the early 1990s, though I confess this is the first I’d heard of her. Given the very noncommercial nature of her works I suppose that isn’t terribly surprising.

As I look to animation for ever richer, more realistic visuals and gripping narratives, the surreal ramblings of indie animators are not generally my cup of tea. Baumane’s mostly dialogue free films are unfortunately not standouts in either respect.

There is a vast difference in her works produced before and after the move to New York. The first three are very East European and crude in appearance, and are all twisted fairy tales of some sort. The later films are much smoother and Western looking and largely eschew story for a parade of bizarre images of love and violence. Yes, despite the cute cover art, this definitely isn’t for children.

Shorts like The Gold of the Tigers and Woman are Baumane at her strangest. The first offers up a mythology for tigers in which they rule the world and straddle the line between dreams and reality. Things end badly for them with copious amounts of bloodshed, another recurring element in the collection.

Baumane says Woman is about the fragile nature of women’s relationship with men, but good luck finding some useful insight to apply to your love life. Apparently the key to finding love has something to do with man controlling his inner beast, perhaps the one that compels us to watch ten hours of football every Sunday.

Then there’s the wild kinkiness of The Threatened One and Five… Fables, both exploring a wide range of intimate encounters. Being edgy is all well and good, but even I had trouble stomaching the baby eating scene. Perhaps that wasn’t the best choice of words.

On the other hand the disc’s two best shorts, though still a little out there, are sufficiently polished and pleasantly amusing to be at home with Cartoon Network’s late night programming. The very entertaining Natasha tells the story of a frustrated housewife who turns to her vacuum cleaner for romance when her couch potato husband ignores her. This most unexpectedly leads to the birth of two mechanical offspring, and the enraged husband engages the philandering appliance in a wild duel to the death that incorporates pro wrestling and fencing.

Dentist might be the closest Baumane comes to real life, satirizing Seinfeld style the tension and even the terror we all experience at the dentist’s office. After a very painful procedure in which his tooth is crushed and his hair is lost to X rays, the patient has to not only empty his pockets but also hand over every last stitch of clothing in payment.

The animation ranges from sub-Hanna Barbera quality in the Looney Tunes-ish The Witch and the Crow, to the nearly ready for Nickelodeon slickness of Natasha. The video quality follows a similar trend, grainy and faded at the start but quite crisp for the most recent productions. Apart from the occasional vulgarity the imagery is nothing all that memorable. Perhaps Baumane figured the finer points of design would be lost on an audience watching an alligator and a dog become very familiar.

I have to say that the marketing department spent their ten dollars for this DVD rather unwisely. The extremely bland title and cover are unlikely to catch anyone’s eye, and there isn’t the slightest bit of information on the presumably unknown creator. At least they might have stuck Plympton’s name on it to generate some familiarity.

The lone extra is a lightweight documentary on Baumane that sheds far too little light on her career. It seems more preoccupied with hinting at random background and character details than in telling us anything about her craft.

Among the few interesting tidbits, we learn that she has been through a few troubled marriages, which perhaps explains the often cynical view of relationships in her work. She also readily reveals a consuming interest in physical intimacy, which definitely explains her love of risque imagery and perhaps the troubled marriages as well.

Hardcore fans of similarly outlandish, low tech animation like Plympton’s may enjoy Ten Animated Films, but I don’t imagine it will hold the general public’s attention for long, and certainly not without unsettling many of them. Baumane ends the collection with a series of tongue in cheek infomercials for dentists, but what she really needs to do is get an endorsement for Natasha. Hoovers would sell like hotcakes, at least until the injury claims start coming in.

The author of this review, Chris Wood, was formerly known on Toon Zone as Desslar.

Platais works are on display at Francesca Anderson Fine Art
Thursday, September 28, 2006
© 2006 Lexington Minuteman

Maris Platais, one of Francesca Anderson Fine Art's most popular artists, will be showing his canvases and works on paper in his second One Man Show at the gallery. His work features woodland scenes from the New England countryside and coastal Maine, nautical paintings and etchings from the artist's beloved homeland, Latvia.

An accomplished teacher, Platais was trained at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and has studied Art History and Architecture at Harvard University and MIT. Participating in many One Man and Group exhibitions throughout the United States, Platais is also a teacher at the Lexington Arts & Crafts Society's Painters Guild in Lexington.

Platais' canvases of woods, fields, and New England pastures feature stone walls and trees with dramatically filtered sunlight, capturing the striking beauty of New England at its best. An example of this is "Minuteman Trail," a painting with elegantly tall pine trees, streaming sunlight and historic stonewalls.

Platais' detailed marine scenes reflect the artist's life-long love for ships and the open ocean. An avid sailor, Platais has participated in the well-known Mystic International Maritime Show at the Maritime Gallery in Mystic Seaport, Ct.

Platais is also known for his elegant pen, ink and acrylic works on paper of fall, winter and summer landscapes, accented with overall splashes of color. In "Bicentennial Oak" a winter woodland provides a backdrop to a gorgeously huge, 200-year-old oak tree standing by a stonewall, classic to many local countrysides. The show also features a group of etchings from the Latvian born artist's homeland, focusing on the country's capitol "Riga."

Platais has won several awards such as the John Stobart Harbor Award, the Alden Bryant Award in 2005 and the Arts for the Parks, top 100 in Jackson, Wyo.

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments and snacks will be available during gallery hours. Call 781-862-0660 for more information.

Latvia: Meningitis cases in Latgale up to 350, but seem to be slowing
Sep 28, 2006
© 2006 The Baltic Times
By TBT staff

As of today, there have been 342 cases of meningitis registered in the eastern Latvian region of Latgale. However, the speed that the virus is spreading has slowed down, according to Public Health Agency spokeswoman Laura Bundule. The outbreak seems to be concentrated in the larger cities. There are 105 meningitis cases registered in Rezekne and 237 in Latvia’s second largest city, Daugavpils. Bundule said that one strain of enterovirus meningitis has been observed in Rezekne, but that three different strains were found in Daugavpils. The type of meningitis spreading in Rezekne seems to be spreading slower. Most of the meningitis patients are children aged 7-14 years. Epidemiologists working in Daugavpils and Rezekne areas have been working hard for the past month, visiting schools and talking to teachers and children, giving them recommendations about preventive measures. This is the largest outbreak of meningitis in Latvia during last decade. Epidemiologists in Daugavpils have experience in curbing the spread of the disease due to the outbreak there in 1997 where over 30 people fell ill.

Third is first for Latvian fans of president's UN bid
By Ben Nimmo
© 2006 Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa
Friday September 29, 2006

Riga — Latvians were engaged in lively debate Friday over news that their president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, came third in a straw poll on candidates for the plum post of United Nations Secretary General. "In the unofficial poll ... the Latvian president received a high result: third," a press release on the presidential website proclaimed, before quoting a report from NGO that hailed her "surprise victory" as an "outstanding showing."

In the vote held by the UN Security Council in New York, Vike-Freiberga — the only female candidate — received seven supporting votes, six opposing votes and two abstentions. The winner, South Korea's Bang Ki Moon, received 13 supporting votes.

The result has stirred up an online storm, with Latvians writing in web-based chat rooms to hail the president's achievement in coming as high as third.

"Seven votes for Vaira is really something!" one commentator wrote on the online forum, while another added, "We should be proud that she got so far!"

Others hailed the impact the president's high profile could have on Latvia itself. The Baltic state, population 2.3 million, has seldom been in the international limelight, and Vike-Freiberga's success is widely seen as reflecting well on the country.

"Full credit to our president, a woman who has carried our little Latvia's name so far in the world!" one such commentator wrote.

Vike-Freiberga is by no means universally admired in Latvia, however. Though born in the country, she was raised in Germany, Morocco and the USA, and is viewed in some quarters as a president who lacks empathy with those who endured the Soviet occupation.

"The president has completely forgotten what Latvia is, that there are people here with everyday problems. When did we last see her in old people's homes, kindergartens, the country?" one asked.

And she is particularly unpopular among Latvia's Russian minority. Vike-Freiberga does not speak Russian, and has consistently condemned the illegal Soviet occupation of Latvia — an occupation which Moscow still claims to have been lawful.

"That stupid woman promised to learn Russian, but she couldn't do it! Why do I (we) need her fame?" a Russian commentator wrote in.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has already said that Moscow will not support Vike-Freiberga's candidacy, accusing her of having an "odd interpretation" of the outcome of WWII.

His comment has resonated widely in Latvia's virtual debating chambers, with ethnic Latvians accusing Russia of closet imperialism and Russians retaliating with accusations of closet fascism.

But for many commentators, the most striking feature of the debate is the sheer excitement which a distant third place in an unofficial poll has caused.

"It reminds me of a joke about a race between Brezhnev and Reagan," one commentator said, referring to the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and later US President Ronald Reagan.

"The (Soviet news agency) TASS wrote that Brezhnev managed to come an honourable second, while the US president was second to last," one commentator said.

"We're the best, we're the cleverest, we're third!" another added.

Why I Should Run the UN
© 2006 New York Times
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Op-Ed — The New York Times Op-Ed page asked the seven candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General to respond to two questions: first to discuss an avoidable mistake the United Nations had made within the last five years. Second, what major reform they would undertake as secretary general. Excerpts from the answers five candidates gave.

ZEID RAL-HUSSEIN (Jordan’s ambassador to the UN): The fight against extremism is necessarily one with winners and losers — one where compromise may equal defeat and where genocide, mass murder and terrorism loom. The leadership of the United Nations must take a stand. To me, there is no starker lesson from the United Nations’ failures in Bosnia and Rwanda. The recent outbreak of war (and fragile peace) in Lebanon, and the conflicts in Africa, have reminded the world of the United Nations’ unique legitimacy in restoring peace and security. Global legitimacy on its own, however, is not enough. The United Nations must also be effective. It should draw on the remarkable success of those societies—not least in Asia—that have seized on the promise of globalisation to renew themselves. Like them, the United Nations must have the courage to discard the old and embrace the new in the name of progress.

JAYANTHA DHANAPALA (Senior adviser to president of Sri Lanka, former UN undersecretary general): For three years, the suffering civilians in Darfur received little but hand-wringing, stopgap humanitarian efforts and an African Union peacekeeping force. Finally the Security Council last month voted to expand the United Nations mission in Sudan to include Darfur. That this resolution remains unenforced reflects the collective failure of the United Nations’ membership and its institutions, including the Secretariat. Darfur exposes the glaring absence of a rapid response mechanism for humanitarian disasters. Politics trumps compassion: the world has to wait for the Security Council to agree to act, for funds to be pledged and collected and troops to be deployed. We need a swiftly deployable humanitarian disaster management team, made up of experts from different disciplines supplied by member states. Members that have advanced satellite reconnaissance technology could provide early warning of disasters, both natural and manmade. And a small, robust force of rapidly deployable troops, with clear rules of engagement approved by the Security Council, would be necessary to protect humanitarian workers from attack or abduction.

ASHRAF GHANI (Chancellor of Kabul University and former Afghan finance minister): In his March report on reform, Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the United Nations “lacks the capacity, controls, flexibility, robustness and indeed transparency to handle multibillion-dollar global operations.? The United Nations should foster global stability by investing in effective states and legitimate institutions. Through consultation with member states, I will seek an agreement on the key tasks that the United Nations must perform. I will lead a process of reform that will allow the United Nations to set the gold standard for transparency and accountability, and which will inspire talented women and men from around the world to work at the United Nations.

VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA (President of Latvia): Too often during the past five years, the United Nations has focused on the letter, not the spirit, of its charter when it needed to protect civilians caught in warfare. The international community’s responsibility to protect must not be an empty concept but a genuine obligation, and United Nations peacekeeping mandates must be more robust. Just as significant, if not more so for the long-term sustainable development of our planet, are the Millennium Development Goals. Progress toward the goals is still unacceptably slow. Unless we make better progress, the vicious circle of poverty, social strife and military conflict will require us to devote ever more resources to peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. At the same time, we should pursue intercultural and interreligious dialogue in order to find creative new ways to address the growing threats posed by terrorism, intolerance and religious violence.

SHASHI THAROOR (UN undersecretary general for communications and public information): Reducing the United Nations presence in East Timor was a mistake that, given the chance to step back in time, I believe we would not make again. The organisational change I’d emphasise is one that’s just occurring: the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission, a body charged with managing the transition from keeping a peace to building a stable society. We need to ensure that the commission becomes effective, pulling together Security Council members, troop contributors and development agencies to help bolster the economies and democratic institutions of countries emerging from conflict. To make peace truly sustainable, I would also involve our new Democracy Fund.

Picture Album  

Old Riga, from Peters' trip in October, 2004.

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